#LovePlymouth: A People-Powered Opportunity
A guest post by Luke Pollard.
Last night I attended the brilliant Devon Social Media Cafe where Ash Mashhadi revealed his ‘big idea’ to turn Plymouth into a social media powerhouse. I’m always skeptical about ‘big ideas’ but what he outlined was brilliant in its simplicity and infectious in its potential.
Ash didn’t talk about a roadmap or a detailed plan – he simply offered up a concept that invited people to be proud of their city and do a small act of social media kindness each day to encourage Plymouth to be better.
I like the idea of contributing to a movement but something else in Ash’s remarks caught my imagination – the possibility for Plymouth to have a city-wide social media policy. Plymouth is unique amongst British cities in having such an active population on social media. All of our constituent parts are represented online and the debate is interesting and informed and perhaps most importantly local and relevant to the lives of people in Plymouth. The power in our collective online presence is not in its current form but in the potential to mobilize and do something more with it, in a more focused way, than we are seeing at present.
A Plymouth-wide social media policy isn’t necessarily a piece of paper (though it could be), but an approach that encourages Plymouth, in all its features, peoples and facets, to embrace social media to make our city better. Whether this is making Plymouth richer, more equal, more open or fairer the possibilities social media offers to achieve real change is tantalizing. Social media alone won’t do this – people will – and social media is one way people can come together. So are meetings, but social media wastes less time on writing minutes I find.
I have long been a fan of social media’s power to change the way people communicate for the better and how its disruptive nature threatens established hierarchies and vested interests. The power of a more engaged population to challenge the vested powerbases in Plymouth is huge and here’s a short prescription for how a more politicised wing of the #LovePlymouth debate could make a positive change in our city.
Followers of my twitter will know that I’m not only proud to be from Plymouth but proud to be Labour too. It’s from this background that I would like to make three small contributions to the #loveplymouth debate online and these ideas unapologetically come from a political perspective. I should state #loveplymouth is not party political in anyway although change to a certain extent is always political.
Three things we can use social media for:
Making the City Council more transparent
Do you know how Plymouth City Council makes its decisions? Do you feel you have a voice over how the City Councils spends your money? Do you know what is happening in the Council chamber? Have you heard the Opposition scrutiny of Council policies? Probably not.
Part of the reason why is a problem of an organization communication plan fit for the twentieth but not the twenty-first century. Part of it is political leadership that wants to clamp down discussion and regards social media, probably rightly, as unsettling to their power. It’s for that reason why we should ask for one simple thing: for the Council to lift its ban on social media in the Council chamber.
The ruling Tories have banned Twitter, Facebook and YouTube from our democracy. Councillors cannot tweet from the council chamber, record discussions on YouTube or use Facebook to engage with their constituents on Council computers and Council smartphones. Lifting the ban isn’t just about allowing our elected Councillors to tweet but should go further to embrace social media in its fullest sense as a vehicle for transparency and good democracy.
Why aren’t Council sessions broadcast online like other Councils do, both Tory and Labour run? What has Plymouth’s Council got to hide? Shining the light of transparency onto the Council will improve this Council and any future administrations too. Transparency should not be party political – let’s demand it as a right – lift the ban on social media in the Council and deliver the people a plan to embrace it.
Recognise Social Media as a driver of the economy
Social media isn’t currently recognized as a contributor to our local economy. Despite the array of companies, charities, organizations large and small using social media, be it blogs, Twiter, Facebook or even just email, it isn’t recognized as a drive of growth. But it could be.
Ash talked last night about how Plymouth could be a beacon for other cities to follow, a digital pathfinder. So let’s make that intent and aspiration real. Let’s recognise Plymouth as an online capital. I posed the challenge yesterday of asking if we could replace our ‘Welcome to Plymouth’ signs with a new welcome board. One that includes the #Plymouth hashtag or the Council’s website URL. I’m all for Plymouth being the spirit of discovery – or disco, depending on how many of the letters are still clinging to the sign – but let’s make that intent real. Let’s show every visitor, every returning Plymothian, every business tripper or tourist that we’re proud of our city and that they can find out more about it online. Let’s say we’re proud of Plymouth and proud to be a city that’s open for business online.
Crowdsource ideas for a better Plymouth
My final contribution is simply this: let’s ask people for their ideas of how Plymouth could be improved. Let’s hub a debate – or even host a debate where conversations already exist on sites like InPlymouth.com and Facebook – about how Plymouth could be better. Let’s do it without a Council badge and all the political and party political baggage that brings, and do so to present an online manifesto for Plymouth to our Councillors and MPs. Let’s ask two simple questions: what do you love about Plymouth? How can Plymouth be better?
What would you write? Have a think now. What would you say you love and what is the thing about Plymouth, large or small, that you want to see changed for the better. Make the ideas pie in the sky to practical, let’s just get them out there and use them to start a debate about whether these are the priorities the Council and our MPs should have.
I’m sure we’d get some of the same answers as I do whilst campaigning for Plymouth Labour on the doorsteps such as filling in the potholes, saving bus routes, cutting rising crime or improving bin collections…but if that is what the people of Plymouth want – then surely that is what those in power should be doing? Let’s ask people how Plymouth can be better and make it a genuinely meaningful open conversation not just a consultation on one set of ideas where the answers are already known.
I love the last idea the most as it is empowering and aggregates and focuses our efforts. I love Plymouth and I want to see it improved and made fairer, greener, more equal and more open. Social media, is one way we can achieve these. Combining social media’s power to connect with real world discussions and change could be very powerful indeed. Join the conversation.